Be Honest About Your Feelings
“Here we go again,” I thought as I watched the steady stream of female co-workers slip into my colleague’s office, giggling and whispering behind their lattes. They erupted into squeals, followed by a few minutes of excited chatter before everyone went back to their desks. Suddenly serious, my colleague headed toward me, and I steeled myself for the inevitable awkward confession, “Hey, Deb. I guess you’ve probably figured it out … I’m pregnant!”
“Wow, that’s great,” I lied, and went on to ask all the appropriate questions before slipping away to the bathroom to inject a syringe full of hormones into my stomach in hopes of some day joining the club that had thus far managed to deny my repeated membership application.
If this scenario sounds familiar, you are not alone. There does come a time in a woman’s life when a large number of her college friends, neighbors, and co-workers start having children. And if she’s one of the unlucky ones that the stork ignores month after month, she will feel like the only childless person in a world full of big bellied, glowing pregnant women.
While no amount of sympathizing or advice will resolve the pain and longing that accompanies infertility, the ideas outlined here might at least get you through the arrival of the next birth announcement.
While your public exclamations of, “Oh, I’m so happy for you!” may be Oscar worthy, take a line from Shakespeare and to thine own self be true. It’s perfectly normal to be angry about your infertility, as well as intensely sad. Dr. Madeline Licker Feingold, PhD, a reproductive medicine psychologist and fertility counselor based in Berkeley, California, says, “The level of depression and anxiety in the infertility population is the same as in cancer, heart disease, and HIV-positive patients.”
Jen Brandon of Orange County, California, has struggled for nearly four years to have a second child. She’s suffered multiple early miscarriages, taken three rounds of Clomid, undergone five cycles of artificial insemination, and weathered two surgeries. All she has to show for it is a huge hole in her bank account. “I try not to be bitter,” she says, “but sometimes when I see a pregnant woman, I think, ‘I hate pregnant women!’”
Dr. Feingold says, “It’s a normal, natural, negative thought. It’s the pain and grief speaking.”
Mixed emotions are natural, too. You can feel happy for the good fortune of a friend, while feeling like life has cheated you at the same time. Brandon remembers crying privately in her car after a friend announced her pregnancy within days of one of Brandon’s miscarriages. And when a college girlfriend wound up expecting triplets, she thought, “Why does she get three babies and I get none?” But in the end she says, “There’s part of me that’s genuinely happy for my friends and co-workers,” even though she feels frustrated and depressed at her own situation.
In a nutshell, it’s OK to be angry and all right to be sad. Jealousy is part of the package, too. Those feelings don’t make you a bad person. They make you a real person, with real feelings. Feelings that happen to hurt like hell right now.
Let’s be honest, baby showers, like weddings, can be tedious affairs after you’ve attended a few of them. From goofy games to ooohing and aaahing over the endless parade of tiny clothing—it’s enough to drive an older mom nuts, so imagine how it feels to someone who’s struggling to have a baby of their own. Imagine putting a starving person in a room full of food they’re not allowed to eat. It’s simply torturous.
Brandon says that she attends the baby showers of her really close friends, but misses work-related baby parties. “Sometimes I don’t go because I don’t want to subject myself to that, when it’s just going to depress me,” she says.
Don’t feel obligated to attend every shower you’re invited to. Just send a nice gift with your polite regrets and go do something fun for yourself instead. Or you can show up for the hors d’oeuvres and some mingling, but make a graceful exit before the games, gifts, and gossiping really kick in.
Pick Your Social Situations
I wish I had a dollar for every time someone told me about the friend of their cousin’s back in Wichita who tried desperately to have a child, went on to adopt three children, then miraculously got pregnant on her own a few years later. Somehow this miracle baby myth was supposed to give me hope that it could happen for me, too. Well, it didn’t give me hope. It made me angry. And so did all the unsolicited medical advice. I was instructed by people with no medical training whatsoever to prop my legs up after intercourse or make sure my husband wore boxer shorts. But the best one by far … the one every childless woman hears is this, “Just relax!” Basically it’s implied that we’re sexually frigid and that loosening up a little will result in a positive pregnancy test.
“They’d never say something so crazy to a cancer patient!” Dr. Feingold says. She recommends either explaining to the pseudo-physician that you or your husband has a medical condition that no amount of prickly-pear juice or Pilates will cure. Or you can end the conversation on the spot with, “That’s fascinating, but I’m working with doctors and considering all the options available to me.”
What’s the one topic that dominates the conversations of all pregnant ladies and new mothers? Babies. Intelligent women with masters degrees, exciting careers, stimulating hobbies, and a passport full of stamps from around the world are suddenly unable to discuss anything except runny noses and car seats. It’s not their fault, of course. Nature gives relatively sane women a bad case of baby tunnel vision for the sole purpose of the perpetuation the human species. But all that baby talk can be total agony for someone who can’t participate.
Brandon says that it became increasingly difficult to attend her daughter’s weekly playgroup because all the other moms were getting pregnant with their second children and spent all their time comparing notes.
“I bowed out,” she says. “I did a lot more one-on-one stuff with other moms.” She even stopped going to her book club for the same reason. “I picked my social situations by what I could handle.”
Dr. Feingold recommends that women get back to the interests and activities that they enjoy. She says, “Our whole life can become our fertility treatments and women feel like their not doing anything useful when they’ll not in cycle.”
Take Care of Yourself
Infertility is a medical condition that takes a heavy physical and emotional toll on every woman who lives with it. Between the fertility drugs, the surgeries, the egg extractions and the acupuncture, our bodies become misused and exhausted. Add in the mindless comments from strangers, plus the way we tend to mentally beat ourselves up for our “failures” and it’s no wonder our self-esteem spirals downward and our psyches crumble.
Now, more than ever, is a time to look inward. Dr. Feingold says, “I think it’s important to do a lot of self care because we want to do the antithesis of what will add to our depression.” She recommends some form of relaxation and says to “take care of your relationship” since baby making can become all-consuming.
Therapy is another great option. Psychologists and counselors like Dr. Feingold are there to help women or couples talk about their unique situations. Just ask your obstetrician for a referral. There’s also an organization called Resolve whose goal is to “provide timely, compassionate support and information to people experiencing infertility.” It’s a national group with regional chapters set up to provide local support. And more informal support groups, such as the Advanced Fertility Issues message board on Babble, can give you a place to vent, get information and support, and be with others who understand your situation.
Whether the pregnancies of others make you happy, make you cry, or leave you with a mixed bag of emotions, always remember that you have the power to choose the situations and conversations you’ll join. And own up to the fact that infertility is a major life crisis that affects your well-being and relationships, so take time out to take care of yourself.